Paul van der Boor, Ph.D. in Technological Change and Entrepreneurship: 

“We Were Always Expected to Conduct Excellent, High-quality and Publishable Research”


 Paul VanDerBoor  "Three Studies on Innovation and Diffusion: Evidence from Mobile Banking in Developing Countries and a User Innovation Survey in Portugal" is the title of the dissertation that Paul van der Boor successfully defended on November 14th, 2013. He expects his work to have an impact “on policy makers for how innovation is conducted, on managers in the way they look at the development of new products and services, and at an academic level by introducing two new methodologies that will allow other researchers to conduct service innovation studies,” he explains.

Passionate about technology diffusion and renewable energies, during his dual degree Ph.D. Paul van der Boor redirected his interests to the study of innovation and diffusion in developing countries, and to the role that users play in innovation. With the support of the Portuguese Ministry of Education and Science, Paul van der Boor issued a survey to almost 10 thousand people to study various patterns of market and not-market diffusion in Portugal. In this survey “12 per cent of the respondents were active user innovators,” explains Paul van der Boor.

In looking back to the five years of his doctoral studies, Paul van der Boor has nothing but positive things to say about the experience: “the CMU Portugal Program is a unique opportunity for students to interact with a broad range of high-quality faculty, across continents, and to work on very interesting projects,” he stresses. Pedro Oliveira (Católica-Lisbon), Francisco Veloso (Católica-Lisbon), Jeroen de Jong (RSM Erasmus University), and Serguey Braguinsky (CMU) were his advisors during this period.

Paul van der Boor started his dual degree Ph.D. in Technological Change and Entrepreneurship in 2009/2010, at the Instituto Superior Técnico of the Universidade de Lisboa (IST-UL), Católica Lisbon School of Business and Economics, and Carnegie Mellon University. 

CMU Portugal: What were the main findings of your dissertation?
Paul van der Boor [PB]: There were three main findings. Firstly, we found that users are important sources of innovation in developing countries and when firms adopt these innovations, user innovations diffuse faster than producer innovations. Secondly, most user innovations are not as widely diffused because user innovators don't put enough effort into sharing their innovations, even if they're willing to share them for free. Finally, rapid diffusion of digital communication technologies allows industries to be formed in the 'South' (i.e., developing countries).
 
CMU Portugal: What is the real impact of these findings? 
PB: Hopefully these findings will inform innovation policy makers about how innovation is conducted, which will allow them to make better decisions. Furthermore, there are other findings, such as the fact that users in developing countries are pioneers in commercially valuable innovations, which will impact the way managers look at the development of new products and services. At an academic level, we created two new methodologies that will allow other researchers to conduct services innovation studies, as well as validate user innovations that are found through large-scale national innovation surveys. Last but not least, we provide insights into the way novel industries can come out of developing countries, which is largely enabled by the digital age, where the diffusion of technology happens at a faster rate. 
 
“These findings will inform innovation policy makers about how innovation is conducted, which will allow them to make better decisions.”   
 
CMU Portugal: How did you implement the User Innovation Survey in Portugal? 
PB: The aim with the user innovation survey conducted in Portugal was to provide a better understanding of user innovation, especially for innovation scholars and innovation policy makers in Portugal. The survey builds upon the experience of similar large-scale national surveys in the UK, the Netherlands, Japan, Finland and other countries and contains the largest sample of user innovations collected to date. With the help of the Portuguese Ministry of Education and Science, the survey was sent to almost 10 thousand people, all with higher education. Overall, we received a 26% response rate, which showed that 12% of our respondents were active user innovators. 
 
CMU Portugal: How do you comment on the experience of being able to work with two different advisors, in two different countries? 
PB: Actually, I worked with four advisors in three different countries! In summary, the benefits outweigh the costs, because, of course, it is more complex and difficult to schedule meetings and to cooperate. However, the overall experience was positive because I got to work with people with a broad background and from different cultures in different projects over the course of the Ph.D. 
 
CMU Portugal: Did you do an internship during your doctoral studies?  
PB: No, I didn’t do any internship but I spent several weeks at a time in Sierra Leone, working on an NGO I co-founded, called E-Luma (www.e-luma.org). This was very important because it was one of the motivations for me to do a Ph.D. on technology in developing countries. The main tasks were restoring a hydroelectric powerplant in a rural village called Yele, and lead a new business model for taking solar lights to the market. 

“I got to work with people with a broad background and from different cultures in different projects over the course of the PhD.”


CMU Portugal: In looking back to the four years of your doctoral studies, can you identify which were the most challenging periods and the biggest learning experiences? 

PB: The most challenging periods were the earlier years as I found it difficult to find my specific research questions, to decide on the data that was needed to answer these questions and take ownership of the process. Once I was able to set a clear direction, work became much easier and more enjoyable. Some of the biggest learning experiences came from interacting with excellent faculty in the program. Furthermore, I realized that the research community I was part of set very high standards: we were always expected to conduct excellent, high-quality and publishable research. This in itself expanded my way of thinking about the research I was doing. 

 

February 2014